Straw urges action on knife adverts

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The Independent Online
DONALD MACINTYRE

Political Editor

A crackdown on advertisements for mail order knives - some of which have 10in blades and are known by names like Rambo Sidearm and Rambo Shortsword - was demanded by Labour yesterday.

Jack Straw, shadow Home Secretary, sent examples of the pictures featured in military and martial arts magazines to the Advertising Standards Authority and called on its chairman, Lord Rodgers of Earlsferry, to launch an investigation. "There is a real risk that such advertisements encourage a culture of violence - particularly amongst young people," Mr Straw said yesterday.

The move comes amid a nation-wide amnesty across 43 police forces launched to persuade people to hand in knives in the wake of the death of Philip Lawrence, the London headmaster, who was stabbed trying to protect a pupil outside his school from a gang of youths. In Greater Manchester, police said weapons were being handed in at the rate of about 75 a day, and in rural Norfolk more than 80 knives have been surrendered.

A spokesman for Sussex police, co-ordinating the four-week amnesty which is being supported by the Daily Mirror, said it was going well and they were having some success with the young people they were particularly keen to target. In one example, Bolton central police station has received a 1907 Wilkinson's bayonet, six cut-throat razors, a Bowie knife and a commando knife.

Labour argued during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill last year that advertisements for luridly branded knives ought to be properly regulated. Mr Straw said the Government had said that the ASA had powers to make sure that they neither condoned nor incited violent behaviour and that is why he had written to the authority asking whether the advertisements contravened its code of practice.

Tim Riffley, editor of Combat and Survival magazine,bluntly dismissed Mr Straw's complaints, accusing him of portraying a "caricature" of the advertisements. "Our reader [is the] average British soldier who wants a knife to go to Bosnia to cut up wood or cut up his meal," he said.

"If you were having an affair with your secretary and you went home and your wife found out, she would not pick up Combat and Survival and think `I need a knife'. So to say that because there's an advert in a magazine for a knife people are going to commit murders is ludicrous.

"These are practical people who want to use knives for totally legitimate purposes," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

Tougher laws on carrying knives are already to be introduced following the death of the headmaster which shocked the nation.

The legislation, to be introduced in a Private Member's Bill, will be backed by the Government and Labour, and is expected to be rushed through the Commons in January.

It will enable the police to arrest without a warrant anyone carrying a knife in a public place without good reason.

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